I’m on a gadget clearing spree, and decided to use Apple’s recycling program for my nearly 7 year old Powerbook G4; my first Mac. I haven’t used it in nearly 3 years. To be honest, I was somewhat surprised that it started up almost without any fuss. I’m guessing the battery would’ve run out completely, so I got a warning that the computer’s time was set to 2001, but soon after that, Mac OS X automatically fixed it; I presume I’d activated NTP at some point.
Somehow this Mac felt much more personal to me then than any machine does now; thanks to the cloud and the plethora of machines I have around me, I’m pretty agnostic to my computers these days. I could use my personal Windows laptop or desktop, work on the Linux VM on my desktop, use my Macbook Pro from work or the test Chromebook that Google’s given me; and a lot of mail-checking and news reading is done on my phone. The network connected DVD player in the living room does a lot of music and movie playback. I’m typing this on the better half’s old Macbook, which is also getting to be ‘of a certain age’. Back then, it was all the Powerbook. It was literally the only machine I used for a very long time, for photo editing, movie watching, coding, thesis writing, gaming, DVD-ripping, you name it. On the desktop was evidence of what was probably one of the last things I did on it — designed my wedding card in Photoshop.
I have to give kudos to Apple for designing and manufacturing something that lasted this long. I felt a real pang of nostalgia when I started typing on it — the keyboard of the Powerbook generation handily beats any keyboard Apple or anyone else has designed since, with the possible exception of the Thinkpad keyboards. I really wish they’d bring that design back. The screen too was as good as ever, though the hard drive seemed to be noisier than I remembered and the laptop grew uncomfortably hot after a while.
It’s the software, strangely enough, that hasn’t kept up. I couldn’t find any modern browser that still distributed Mac OS X binaries for G4 chips. None of the circa 2007 browsers that were installed on the machine could run Google+, for example. I suppose I could find a Linux distro that will still compile on a PowerPC platform but sadly enough, these aren’t grad school days and I have other things to do. So back it goes, to the company it came from, in many ways a generation later. I remember once, in jest, calling it “An elegant weapon for a more civilized age” like the lightsaber in Star Wars. That statement rings more true now than it did then.